I’ve been reading Peter Harmsen’s Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze. I like it a lot. Part of the reason I like it is that he is a journalist who has worked in China for years and now and has written quite a good book, based on both Chinese and western sources. As I have discussed before, I am really envious of my Americanist colleagues who can give students all sorts of academic stuff, popular stuff written by academics, stuff written by non-academics that is quite good, etc. Until recently all we had for the China field was academic stuff, a small amount of non-academic crud, and very little in between. This is starting to change, and this book is a good example of it.
One thing that it helped clear up for me is why the Chinese. bombed the Great World Amusement Center in 1937. This is a pretty famous incident from early in the battle where Chinese planes aiming for the Japanese cruiser Izumo, which was anchored in the Huangpu river, instead bombed the Great World and killed hundreds of civilians. This was actually a pretty important historical event, not only for those killed but because China was trying to convince the world that they were a major power worthy of help for reasons beyond pity. The poor performance of the Chinese bombers was not helping the cause.
Chinese bombers hit a number of targets near the river, but the Great World is miles away. Apparently, the best explanation for how they managed to miss so badly was that the Chinese pilots were expecting to bomb from 7,000 feet but had to drop down to 1,000 due to weather.1 Unfortunately they did not adjust their bombsites. Not a huge historical issue, to be sure, but something that has always bugged me.
More on the book here. Harmson blogs here